An Orbit Obit: This Is Phil Jefferson


It took me weeks to accept Phil Jefferson’s death. I’m still holding out for a call, imagining a time when it won’t be a telemarketer and I’ll look down to see Phil’s name. A Facebook post by Jeff Dodge whittled at my denial helping me face reality. Phil won’t be calling. It’s tough to accept because Phil had a vitality, an energy about him. When we first met Phil we knew he was a bit older. Age was a topic because he seemed so young. I recall him saying he was 63 and then years later it seemed like he was still telling people he was 63. He seemed ageless. As one of my Portland icons, he enriched my Portland experience. Like most people in Portland, he shied away from talking about his past. I knew Phil was from back east and when I heard Maryland Governor Larry Hogan speaking on TV I thought about how much he sounded like Phil. On his Facebook page it mentions he was born in Annapolis, the capital of Maryland. Otherwise, Phil remained a bit of a mystery.

I met Phil sometime after I moved here in 2008. It’s a murky memory because I always assumed he was part of the Jeff Dodge gang. It surprised me to learn we all met around the same time at one of the Illahee lectures. Phil was going to be the marketing arm of Jeff’s video production company. He talked about selling advertising for a local music magazine. This all sounded up Phil’s alley because these skills lended themselves to his gift of gab. Phil was a friend but there were times when we worked together doing a video shoot with Jeff’s gear deep in the heart of the Tryon Creek forest and I always liked seeing Phil in his spiffy banquet jacket during gala events where I would be working on the tech crew. 

Phil released two flute based albums, with the help of Jeff Dodge as his producer. This collaboration made sense because Phil was Jeff’s in-house flute section. He can be heard on many tracks of Jeff’s band, The Peasant Revolution Band. Phil was big on jazz. That became more apparent at a recent memorial held in his honor. Phil was the type of musician who did the occasional studio work and could find a gig in a supper club where he’d be sitting next to a an unused piano playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow while an acoustic guitarist, Jeff Dodge of course, chops away at Across The Universe riffs which makes for an interesting mash up. Phil wasn’t gunning for the big time and it would be unlikely for him to be playing The 1905 Club with Rich Reece sitting at the front table. 

Phil’s discussions about his first album were filled with excitement and were inspiring. In a text he described the recording saying, “this album is a MONSTER!!” I always liked hearing Phil talk about his album but it took getting called out on someone else’s Facebook page to get me to listen. The incident showed me Phil could get a bit more intense than his usual sarcastic self. Where a tough text or a blast by phone would have sufficed, I was chided in a public way, for good reason, for not listening to the album in the two and a half years since it had been released. Almost immediately, I navigated the CD Baby site which probably had something to do with finding a password and listened to the album. I always knew I’d get around to it but a public kick in the pants provided the motivation. A second album, The Madness of Crowds Part 2, has just been released.

Phil worked the phone. While I’ve shied away from phone calls, something that’s left me wondering how I got so weird about this, Phil kept it old school. During the pandemic he made it a point to check in on people allowing them to offer him a reality check as well. This was thoughtful, sweet and practical. Sure I missed his calls at times. I always assumed I needed a half hour to talk to Phil but it was great to talk to him when I did and the calls were often not as long as I expected. I regret being too caught up in my I-have-no-time mentality and not making more time for this friend. 

I always thought of Phil as the kind of guy I’d want to get together with other people. I could imagine him connecting with certain people. The pandemic made it difficult to socialize but I remember him connecting with my big brother Jack through Facebook, sharing random thoughts about science fiction and I wish those guys could have had an extended conversation. It was great to find out Phil interviewed Dave Dahl, of Dave’s Killer Bread, yet another icon. This proved Phil’s ability to jaw with anyone. Not everyone got Phil. This could be said about many people but it was fodder for some discussion with the Jeff Dodge crew. I considered it a musician thing, assuming musicians to be persnickety. I mostly stayed out of it accepting Phil for who he was. Phil had a way of challenging me that sometimes felt uncomfortable but I know he was only that way because he cared.

I long mulled over a blog post idea that would have featured me and Phil. Two old guys sitting on a bench in an empty mall talking about the end of the world. This was inspired by thoughts we’d shared about science fiction and the environment. I never coordinated what was an underdeveloped idea at best. I can imagine us sitting there, all set up with the tape recorder on and hearing Phil announce, “Well, what do you want me to say?” Then we’d look around the mall, laughter would ensue and the fading gleam would speak for itself. 

Remembering Phil:

See a short film memorializing Phil Jefferson:

See a short film dedicated to Phil:

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